Most people associate California with wine, especially since the state has many of the country’s most celebrated vinous regions. At the same time, California has also emerged as one of the best destinations for beer due to the recent, precipitous growth of microbreweries. In particular, San Diego has earned recognition as one of the best cities in the whole country for beer, offering a wide range of different breweries playing with various styles. For people who enjoy beer, a visit to San Diego is not complete without visiting at least one brewery. Some of the top options include the following:
1. Ballast Point Miramar
While Ballast Point has become a national brand, the original brewery, which continues to produce all of the flagship Sculpin beer, is based in the Miramar neighborhood of San Diego. The space itself is stunning, with massive copper brew kettles and towering grain silos. Plus, it is very spacious, so finding a bar seat or some other corner to relax is not difficult.
The highlight of the brewery is the large indoor/outdoor patio for enjoying the temperate San Diego climate while trying out some new beers. While the brewery offers all of the typical favorites, it’s more fun to try the experimental concoctions served in house. Ballast Point also has a restaurant with exceptional food, although the wait for a table can get quite long, so it’s not always a good idea to show up hungry.
Not far from Ballast Point is AleSmith, a huge brewery with lots of space. Guests will find a patio, loft area, and “hidden” room, as well as a museum. Plus, the selection of beers is lengthy, and they tend not to disappoint.
Moreover, AleSmith always finishes strong at the San Diego International Beer Festival. One of the highest-rated offerings is the Hawaiian Speedway Stout, although many lighter varieties are on tap. The “hidden” room right off the main room focuses on beers aged in bourbon barrels. Another plus here is that the patio always features various local food trucks to help balance out the high alcohol content of the beers. Visitors should also check if any special events are happening on the patio.
3. Stone Brewing
Opened in 1997, Stone Brewing is in many ways responsible for making San Diego the mecca of craft beer that it has become. One of the first microbreweries in the area, Stone has earned an international reputation for excellence. Stone now has several different locations in the area, but the flagship and not-to-be-missed location is in Escondido. This location takes up an entire block and the interior lives up to the beer’s name and bottle design with huge stone facades and menacing gargoyles. The world-class patio and gardens are where the majority of visitors will choose to spend their time. Trees and water features make the whole area feel very peaceful.
As far as the beers go, all the favorites are on tap with some rarer offerings. The upstairs and downstairs taps are different, however, so guests should pay close attention. Also, it is worth noting that parking can get quite difficult.
With one of the more interesting stories behind the breweries in San Diego, Mikkeller is headed by “gypsy brewer” Mikkel. He crafts his beers in Denmark and ships them around the world, including Mikkeller in San Diego’s Little Italy.
Beer fans should note that the brewery does produce beers on site using recipes developed and approved by Mikkel. This option is great for people who have an adventurous palate and want to try a wide variety of different flavors at a single, relaxed location.
5. Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey
This two-in-one option is very unique. One wall has taps from Port and the other features taps from Lost Abbey. Guests can try both and mingle in the space between. The brewery itself is stripped down, without the glitz of some of the larger names in the area, but it has its own charm.
Port specializes in IPAs while Lost Abbey offers Belgian beers. Beers from the latter are made according to tradition, so they are some of the closest to European brews that can be found in the United States. The two breweries do not really compete with each other in terms of style since they are going after very different experiences. This option can prove a great choice for groups of people with different tastes.
6. Pizza Port
This brewery grew fast and now has multiple locations. A fan favorite remains the Carlsbad location as it has a distinct 1980s vibe complete with vintage arcade games. The pizza is great, but the beer here remains the real pull. Pizza Port does IPAs and stouts remarkably well and the locations generally have a number of rotating, one-off options for people who want something new and exciting. People who want to experience the original location should head to Solana Beach. This location does not have the same nostalgic vibe, but it is still a lot of fun and located close to other microbreweries.